CHICAGO – Corey Crawford topped Tuukka Rask in the only stat that matters.
The Chicago Blackhawks goalie was outstanding in overtime—all three periods of it—and his stinginess in the net kept his teammates in the game long enough to finally overcome the Boston Bruins 4-3 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. He made 51 saves, including 29 in overtime, before Andrew Shaw ended the game with 7:52 left in the third OT.
Game 2 is Saturday night in Chicago.
“Crowe was great, he kept us in there,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “He made several all-alone plays and saves. Had some odd-man breaks, some dangerous looks. He was great.”
He had to be, considering who was in the other net.
Neither Rask nor Crawford was in net the last time their teams won the Stanley Cup. Rask was Tim Thomas’ backup in 2011, while Crawford was so far down on the depth chart he was in the stands when the Blackhawks won it all in 2010. But they ooze the confidence of grizzled vets, and no one has been better since the playoffs began.
Rask came into the finals with the highest save percentage (.943) of the playoffs, and Brandon Saad’s goal in the second period snapped the Boston goalie’s scoreless streak of 149 minutes and 36 seconds. Those high-octane Pittsburgh Penguins? They got a measly two goals off Rask in a four-game sweep by the Bruins.
He finished with 59 saves on 63 shots Wednesday night, the most he’s seen in his career.
Crawford had the best goals-against average (1.74) coming into the finals. But there was some grumbling about a couple of soft goals during the Western Conference semis, when Detroit jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the series. He likely would have heard more after Boston took a 3-1 lead on a pair of goals by Milan Lucic and a power play goal by Patrice Bergeron.
But the Hawks finally figured Rask out in the third period, scoring twice in a span of 4 minutes and 14 seconds, and Crawford took it from there.
“You can take the quotes from every playoff win: He’s been big for us and makes huge saves in timely situations,” Patrick Sharp said. “I think we can finally stop asking questions about whether he’s the No. 1 guy.”
Midway through the first OT, Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille charged Crawford together, the closest Blackhawk trailing several feet behind. Thornton took the puck in on his own and took a shot from close range, but Crawford deflected it.
Boston went on the power play 12:08 into the first overtime after the Blackhawks were called for too many men on the ice for a second time. Just as they had on their third goal in regulation, the Bruins moved quickly to try and take advantage. David Krejci, who already has nine goals this post-season, took a shot from the left side only to have Crawford block it with his pads.
“I can’t even put him into words,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “He made some unbelievable saves. We had a couple too-many men penalties, and you knew we were going to need some big stops, and he was there every single time.”
After Horton fanned on his first shot, he got the puck again only to see the puck bang into the left post and skitter away. Crawford was knocked over in the commotion and lost his stick. With the Bruins still circling while Crawford was trying to scramble back into position, Marian Hossa threw himself onto the ice, putting a very large wall between Boston and the open side of the goal.
“There’s no sense in wasting energy to complain or whine about” too many men, Crawford said. “We’ve got a job to do, to try and kill it off.”
Crawford caught a shot by Brad Marchand in the second overtime, and had a nifty kick save on an attempt by Rich Peverley. And he made some of his best plays of the night in the third overtime period, helping the Blackhawks kill off a penalty and then stopping two shots from close range by Krejci.
The first, less than four minutes into the third OT, might have been Krejci’s best chance, taken straight on, from right between the circles. But Crawford coolly dropped to his knees and smothered it with his pads. Less than two minutes later, he knocked a hard shot by Krecji away with his left glove.
“It’s exhausting,” Crawford admitted. “I just try to tell myself to make the next save, and we’re going to score on our next shot.”
The closest the Bruins got to Crawford in overtime was at the end of the second OT, when Boston was on the power play. Standing just in front of the near blue line, bruising Zdeno Chara hit a laser and Crawford could only look at it as it rocketed toward him.
But it banked off the inside right post and Crawford never faltered again.
“They had a lot of chances,” Brandon Saad said. “It was kind of a back and forth game there, and Crawford came up big for us.”